Friday, January 18, 2008

Pentecost of Series C (preached 5-27-07)

You may be noticing a trend- the older sermons (such as this one) are much longer than more recent ones. I'm not against long sermons per se, but I am working on tightening up my thoughts and being more focused. Not sure if it's working, but my sermons have been several minutes shorter...

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Grace, mercy and PEACE to you from God our Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago by Pastor Doehrmann. Dear friends in Christ. One of the unfortunate things about going to school in Fort Wayne is the fact that to travel home, I have to go through Chicago. Not only is the traffic bad, but in addition, flying through O’Hare can be a time-consuming business, with constant delays and headaches. There is one advantage to this situation, however. Most of the planes from Fort Wayne take a lazy turn over Lake Michigan and fly just north of downtown Chicago, giving us spectacular views of one of the most magnificent skylines in our country. You can probably easily picture the buildings in your mind right now- the Sears tower, the Hancock building, and you can probably name many more that I can’t even think of. It is amazing what we humans can build when we put our minds to it, right?

That is without a doubt what humanity thought thousands of years ago in Genesis eleven. In that time after the flood, all mankind had the same language, and now they wanted to see just how great they could be. They said to one another, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” In their foolish pride they wanted to become as important, as powerful as God Himself. They believed Satan’s little lie that He first spoke to Adam and Eve, “you will be like God.” That desire to become our own God has infected all of humanity since, and we see it here again, even after the ravages of the flood, with the building of the Tower of Babel.

And we see it time and time again in our own world today. Now I am not speaking directly about those brave men and women who built skyscrapers in our own history. What I am talking about more specifically is the building projects we take on in our own lives. We try to become like God in every facet of our lives, building great skyscrapers of pride out of our work, our families, our homes, and our recreation. We want to build a “tower with its top in the heavens,” and “make a name for ourselves” with the things of this world. How often have we been tempted to believe that ‘the one who dies with the most toys, wins?’ How often have we compared ourselves to those around us, and rejoiced when they were the ones found wanting? But these things are only the surface of a much deeper problem- we want to be like God. We build these ‘skyscrapers’ out of our own lives to declare our independence from God. We make the things of our lives our idols, placing our pride between ourselves and God.

But we are not satisfied with simply pursuing our own building projects- we also ruin the plans of God. From the very beginning, God has wanted to dwell with His people. He walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve, He dwelt in the midst of the camp as Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. He even promised to be present with his mercy in the temple in Jerusalem. But God wanted more than that- Jesus tells us in verse twenty-three of our text today that “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” God wants to dwell with every one of us, present with His mercy each day- His desire is to make His home with us! Sinful humans, however, too often have other plans.

Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God were too busy with their own building projects to concern themselves with God’s desires. They may have built a temple to God, but they also built altars to idols. They constructed the ark of the covenant- after they crafted a golden calf. Every time that God provided a means to dwell with His people, they scorned Him and followed their own ways. And we are little different- we may help build or support a church, but we also build skyscrapers out of the things of this world, idolizing our money and possessions, placing them before God. We take tremendous pride in what we have accomplished by ourselves, without needing the help of our Creator. In our pride, we are incapable and unwilling to love Jesus or keep His words. Remember what Jesus tells us in verses twenty-three and twenty-four: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” For God to dwell with us, as He desires, we must do what we are unable to- love Jesus and keep His words. We fail in every commandment because in our pride we have broken the first and set up idols in our lives to oppose God.

In our sin God cannot dwell with us, because He is holy and cannot make compromises for those who directly oppose Him with false gods of their own. And without God dwelling with us, we have no hope. We may leave this world with many material things, or a family legacy, or an impressive list of accomplishments, but we leave this world just the same. And without God present with us in His grace, we face His wrath alone. We have no peace beyond this life because all that our building projects have earned us is eternal condemnation. We even spend our life in this world without peace, because our pride tells us constantly that we haven’t done enough for ourselves. And underlying our entire lives is a lurking fear of God’s righteous wrath, which will be unleashed on us when we leave all of our skyscrapers behind.

And that is where we would be if Christ had not done something about our situation- we were lost in our pride, in our foolish attempts to become like God, and we could not do anything about it. But Christ did, and He did so in the most extraordinary way. The Son of God became man and dwelt in our sinful world amongst sinful people, breathing the air we breathe and eating the food we eat. In Christ God dwelt with His people as He did in the Garden of Eden, or in the tabernacle in the desert, or in the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus was the ‘tabernacle’ or ‘temple’ amongst the people, embodying God’s presence in His creation. But Christ’s greatest act was when He departed. Jesus tells in verse twenty-eight of our text, “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” The Father is not greater than Jesus because Jesus is a ‘lesser God,’ but because Jesus Christ, true God and true man, submitted Himself to the Father’s will. And what was that will? That Christ would die on a cross for our sins and be raised back to life for our salvation. He tells us in verses thirty and thirty-one, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” The ruler of this world, Satan himself, had entered Judas, and just hours after these words the betrayer would lead an armed party to Jesus. Then sinful men placed the Son of God on one of man’s towers, this one in the shape of a cross. This skyscraper of guilt and shame, punishment and torture, became for us the tower of grace, because on that cross Christ gave up his life for us. He died in our place to forgive us of our sinful pride, which places the things of this world ahead of God. And then He rose triumphant on the third day to give us the hope, the promise that we would rise again and live with Him into all eternity, the people of God dwelling with their Savior.

Christ then left again, ascending to where He had come from, leaving us in this still sinful world. But He did not leave us alone. In verse twenty-six, Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit, whom God sent through Christ, will continually bring to mind the words and deeds of Christ. As we prayed in the collect today, we ask God to “Grant us in our day by the same Spirit to have a right understanding in all things.” The Holy Spirit preserves the teachings and deeds of Christ, and proclaims them to us. But He does much more than that. The Spirit stands beside us, testifying before God, the world, and ourselves that Christ did die for us and that our sins are forgiven. Our promised helper came on the day which we celebrate today- Pentecost.

On that day, Luke writes in Acts chapter two that “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The promise of Christ in our Gospel lesson today was fulfilled on that great day, and the Holy Spirit came to the believers in Christ. In Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit reversed the great sin at the Tower of Babel, and for one night all the languages of the earth were once again one. But they did not simply speak gibberish, but as Jesus said in verse twenty-six of our text, “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit enabled the disciples to preach the words and deeds of Christ to the people, especially how He died and rose again for them, and God blessed this preaching with thousands of conversions. In a great foretaste of heaven, all people spoke the language of God.

On Pentecost the sin of Babel was reconciled, and God dwelt with humans again through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the same way Christ has won forgiveness for all of our stubborn pride in our own sinful building projects, and the Holy Spirit brings those benefits to us, healing the rift between us and God so that He can dwell with us. In verse twenty-six, Jesus tells us that God will send the Holy Spirit “in my Name.” Last Sunday, an infant had the name of Christ placed on him, the name by which God has revealed Himself to us, he was baptized “In the NAME of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As Jesus promised us, the Holy Spirit came in that name to work faith. Every Baptism, therefore, is a Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit comes to us like He did in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. Our Introit for today says “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created.” In our Baptism, the Holy Spirit creates a new person within us, drowning the Old Adam with all of our sins and evil desires. Through the faith given in Baptism we love God and hold on to all of His words- words of grace, words of comfort, but most especially the Word Himself, Christ our Lord.

This Jesus tells us in verse twenty-three, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come and make our home with him.” Because of the forgiveness received by faith, God comes to dwell with us. He comes near to us whenever we read His word or hear it preached and especially whenever we receive His precious Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. He dwells with us in grace, granting the forgiveness won on the cross through these means. And this grace, this wonderful dwelling of God with His people, gives us peace. Jesus tells in verse twenty-seven, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not you hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” This peace is the peace of knowing that our sins have been forgiven for the sake of Christ and that we will know true peace in heaven, where we will dwell with Christ into all eternity. Therefore we have no need to fear the wrath of God, because it was poured out on Christ for our sake, and we can truly live in the peace that all of our earthly things and all of our pride, the skyscrapers we try to build for ourselves, can never give us. In verse thirty, Jesus says that Satan “has no claim on me.” Satan also has no claim on us, because we dwell with God, and in His arms we have peace.

After giving these wonderful words of comfort, Jesus tells His disciples, “Rise, let us go from here.” They must travel to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus will meet His betrayer and then go to the cross. At the cross, He won the peace which He promises, the same peace which He gives to you today and every day through the work of the Holy Spirit. Because of what He did for us that Good Friday, no tower can ever rise higher than His cross. In Christ we find peace, the peace that allows us to “Go from here” with the forgiveness and grace of Christ. Therefore, “Rise, let us go from here” with the PEACE of God which passes all understanding, Amen.

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